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U.S. Army Tests New Energy-Saving Tents With Solar Power, Too

Here’s one indication of just how quickly Army is moving toward an energy-efficient future: last year we got all excited about an energy-saving base camp demonstration project at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, and now our friends over at the DoD Energy Blog have just tipped us to another pair of energy projects at Fort Benning, Georgia and Fort Bliss, Texas. Together, the two projects are designed to push the Army energy efficiency envelope by comparing the existing “Force Provider” tents with an even more advanced generation of energy-saving tents built with rigid walls instead of flexible material.

US Army aims for more energy efficiency from tents

Energy Efficient Tents courtesy of U.S. Army

Army Energy Efficiency and Tents

The new “tents” don’t actually look like tents, they look more like shipping containers made of rigid but extremely lightweight walls. That design approach seems a little counter-intuitive in terms of saving energy, but one key element is an insulation R-Value of about 12. That stacks up pretty well against conventional tents, which come in at about 4 (R-Value refers to the heat resistance of an insulating material).

According to an Army article about the new tents, the other energy-saving features include LED lighting and motion-detecting switches. Water conservation features also figure prominently in the system, including low-water efficient laundry systems, low-water latrines and shower heads, waterless urinals, rain water collection systems and shower water reuse systems.

Rounding out the resource conservation picture is an energy-scavenging feature in the form of solar power canopies. In hot climates they also serve to shade the shelters, which helps to reduce cooling load.

The overall energy needs of the system are supplied by a smart microgrid that includes battery storage. It is capable of seamlessly integrating energy from a variety of sources including renewables.

The rigid-wall system could also lead to additional savings, since it enables shelters to pull double duty as platforms for other elements of a base camp. The development team is currently working on a kit that would enable fighting positions to be built on top of a shelter.

That’s all well and good but for now the bottom line is that the new tents enable energy and water savings of 35 to 75 percent, which reduces the need for risking Soldiers on fuel and water convoys (to say nothing of the expense, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).

Competing Against Force Provider Tents

If the new rigid-walled system is going to achieve greater savings than the Force Provider system, it’s got some work to do. The Force Provider “Temper Tents” look somewhat like conventional tents in that their walls are made of flexible material, but the design integrates air-filled supporting “beams” and other technological advances.

Force Provider was originally developed in response to lessons learned during Desert Storm in 1991. The goal was to design portable shelters that could be set up quickly while providing Soldiers with climate control and other basic physical comforts that help maintain force effectiveness and improve overall well-being.

Cutting down on resource consumption was another important goal, and in its current iteration Force Provider does a pretty fair job. One highlight is a graywater recycling system that captures about 3.3 million gallons out of the 4.4 million gallons typically used in a 600-person camp annually.

All things being equal, though, the rigid-walled system still has a couple of other advantages. Word so far is that the interior is significantly more comfortable, and there is no need for the site prep typically demanded of the Force Provider system.

The Fort Benning and Fort Bliss installations are only Step One, by the way. The Army is already planning further sustainability improvements for two additional test set-ups. One will be at Fort Devens, where it will be compared directly with the Force Provider system. Another test is will take place in Australia, with the aim of measuring the system’s performance in a “completely different” environment.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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